Musical Legacies of Sikandar Alam Shall Always Live On

By Saswat Pattanayak

News of Sikandar Alam’s death is an exaggeration. Through his immortal songs, he continues to live.

Alam spent an eventful life, engrossed in serving Oriya music. As one of the greatest singers from Orissa, Alam began early – at 18. In fact, the very first Oriya song which was released on HMV was rendered by him. And yet, his successes never overwhelmed his struggles. Alam constantly recalled his own phases of arduous endeavors to carve a niche in the landscape of Oriya music. He was always of the view that there was a need for artists to reflect upon their own path of glory so as to enable them to support others that follow.

In a candid conversation with me several years ago, Sikandar Alam shared his own story. He narrated how his father never wanted a singer in their family and had strictly enforced regulations that would prevent such a possibility. And yet, the first day he heard young Sikandar sing on All India Radio, he asked him to abandon studies at school and take up singing as a profession.

Those days, singing as a profession was not only unconventional, it used to be equated with other bohemian tendencies such as poetry, fine art, and writing. The creative fields were all marvelous when performed, but were far from desired as tools of survival. If the career of a singer was uncertain, even more alarming was the career of an Oriya singer. Be it the genre of playback singing, or spirituals, there were only a handful of ‘giants’. New artists were supposed to only emulate the greats and continue their traditions.

Alam did not do injustice to such a requirement. He was a rebel at heart, which is why he chose the profession of singing. And yet, he was a rebel with a noble cause, which is why he never denigrated the rich heritage of Oriya music. He made the most from his inspirations and further enriched a tradition that emerged highly instructive, classical and unsurmountable.

It is true that skepticisms were high about potentials of creative talents during 1970’s. But, Alam said to me, in our modern days, creativity has been sold in the quest of money. An artist requires money for survival, but more than that he/she needs a congenial artistic audience for excellence. Alam chose to create an environment that would further the need to institutionalize honor and dignity for aspiring singers. He promoted Bhakta Salabega’s compositions, stressed on classical training for singers of all genres, and demanded that Odissi music be recognized so that not just dancers, but also Odissi singers bring global fame to our land.

Alam never minced a word when it came to endorsing the cause of Oriya music. He was acutely aware of the need for artists to take a stand and express solidarity with each other. He understood early on that the state government was not genuinely concerned about the future of music in Orissa. He was so vocally critical of the government that he even rejected the idea of a National Award for artists. “Instead of awarding national singers Rs 5,000 cash which means peanuts to them, why not encourage budding talents in our very own state?” he told me in an interview for Hindustan Times. (Please click here to read the complete interview.) .

“Mumbai singers with wrong Oriya pronunciation are being given offers whereas, our own singers with correct pronunciation are not even given half a chance. And this politicization is affecting the film industry,” Alam said. One of the reasons behind such dissociation between Oriya people and their film industry is a growing culture that worships money, not talent. And secondly, he pointed out, it was because Oriya films in modern times have been reduced to nothing but cheap imitations of Bollywood varieties. As a result, central themes of our movies no more demand lyricism. With action-oriented cinemas solely being produced, it is no wonder that there appears to be a disconnect between filmmakers and music directors. Composers without classical background are creating the sorts of music that can only ironically enable singers like Sonu Nigam to win best Oriya playback awards.

Not only was Alam passionately observant of the trends that demanded redressing, he was also deeply aware of the ways to resolve the imminent crisis. “I suggest, there be a screening test done before the proposed songs are released in order to find if any songs cannot be sung by Oriya singers. Then only you look out for Bollywood.” And then with a mischievous grin he almost whispered to me, “And you will see, this task is made easier since the present day music directors do not come out with anything extraordinary that cannot be picked up by our local singers…!”

Such were his profound love for his motherland Orissa, his genuine concern for sincere Oriya composers and endless hope for Oriya singers. His love for our motherland should inspire the politicians and their followers to recognize and promote our artists. His concern for Odissi music should encourage our composers to recreate the magic of the 70’s by not deviating from our unique art form. And Alam’s hopes for our singers should see the future give birth to young talents that shall hold aloft his legacies for all times to come.

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Emancipatory Journalism Must Be Protected From Sedition Charges

By Saswat Pattanayak

As Published in Kindle

As Published in Kindle

Laxman Chaudhury’s arrest in Orissa is the latest in the series of assaults on press freedom. In the guise of fighting the Maoists, various state governments in India are now harassing journalists in an unprecedented manner. But what is more peculiar in this specific oppression of the people is the manner in which grassroot scribes associated with vernacular media are being specifically targeted.

Chaudhury from Mohana has been charged under sedition and for having waged war against the state. A committed journalist who exposed the nexus between ganja smugglers, women traffickers and the police, is suddenly declared as an enemy of the State after being framed for alleged links with Maoists. OTV reporters Khusiram Sunani and Kirti Chandra Sahu, editor of Nissan, Lenin Ray, Samaj correspondent Jagannath Bastia, Aaromv reporters Sriharsha Mishra and Kiran Mishra are also instances of journalists being harassed under similar pretexts.

Sedition is possibly the most serious charge envisioned against an unpatriotic and disloyal subject of the State. To bring up such a charge against active journalists who are championing the voice of the underrepresented clouds the vision of a vibrant democracy. Not only are the charges of sedition inappropriate to be brought against any journalist who advances the voices of dissent, but the very code of sedition needs to be reevaluated, and subsequently purged from the legal paraphernalia.

We need to remember that the original Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (1870) defined Sedition thus: Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards Her Majesty or the Crown Representative in British India or British Burma shall be punished with transportation for life or any shorter term, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.

Conveniently enough, our judiciary and legislative power combines have not amended this section much, and have merely replaced “Her Majesty or the Crown Representative” with “the Government established by law”, “British India/Burma” with “India”, and the “transportation for life” with “imprisonment for life”. What has entirely gone amiss from juridical interventions is the need to rethink the absolutely abominable colonial strategies to continue enslaving human subjects in the name of loyalty to the ruling structure. Its utter disgusting to sustain such a tradition of oppression even to this date, let alone fabricate freethinking conscientious journalists into submitting to charges of so-called sedition.

What has gone missing from the critical discourse is the unique history of humankind against colonial empires. Had the unfree subjects obeyed such unjust legal systems enforced upon them, there would have never been a single instance of civil disobedience or non-cooperation, or outright opposition against social injustice. It is important to recall that revolutionaries of our freedom movements were not so much opposed to the British individuals per se. In fact, many of them were educated by British professors, admired rationalist traditions of the British, and joined internationalist forces in declaring their freedom rights. This was the reason why our leaders, moderates and extremists alike, did not prefer to incite violence against the British individuals. They were chiefly opposed to the unjust methods of the British colonial system. They demanded overhauling of the system, but did not preach hatred against the rulers. This is the approach of the revolutionaries – to heed to the peoples‘ causes and calls and stir up a new movement to replace an older unjust one. It is not mere opposition to specific political parties that is desirable for a journalist to air, but also the demand for replacement of a whole gamut of corrupt structure when it has failed its entire purpose.

Journalists, more than any other professionals, are representatives of the people’s voices. It is through their views and interpretations that some people aspire to be politicians, some administrators look for policy changes, and some judges inform themselves before releasing a verdict.

Not only journalists need to be forever shielded from sedition charges, they must work together to influence the masses to demand for abolition of such unjust colonial legacies in our legal system. If people demand Her Majesty to be ousted, so be it. And if the majority of India, impoverished in poverty and being penalized for being poor, demand the existing government – elected through fraudulent methods of indoctrination, money power and manipulations – to go, so be it.

If a grassroot journalist can be accused of sedition, then its time to reassess the executive-legislative-judiciary branches in view of their former colonial masters, and they must together be declared guilty of graver charges. Crimes against the people must be denounced far more stringently than crimes against the authorities.